‘I regard the photograph as a visual documentation of time and change.’


Self-portrait 1961 1961, printed 2011
type C photograph
26.0 x 19.9 cm
© Sue Ford Archive, Melbourne

Australia was still more than a decade away from passing its first sex discrimination law when 18-year-old Sue Winslow – later to be better known as Sue Ford – started work for Melbourne firm Sutcliffe Photographers. It was 1961 and the Commonwealth Public Service Act specifically forbade married women from being permanent employees. Everywhere, in countless ways, women were routinely subjected to what would now be seen as the most egregious forms of sexism.

In 1962 Winslow enrolled in a photography course at RMIT. Out of a class of 30 she was one of only two women students. Maggie Finch, Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria, writes in her introduction to the impressively comprehensive book produced on the occasion of the NGV’s mid-2014 Sue Ford retrospective exhibition: ‘From the beginning, her conceptual interest differed greatly from that of her male peers; she felt their attitude toward her “was a bit patronising. Their reason for learning photography seemed, in some way, very different from mine”.’

After a year at RMIT, Winslow abandoned the course, saying in a 1995 interview, ‘I left because I was being molested in the darkroom by one of the lecturers and also I couldn’t stand being the only woman. It was a nightmare.’

It was also at around this time she had to give up a photography studio she and a fellow photography student, Annette Stephens had set up above a cafe on Little Collins Street. Again, it was over an issue of sexual harassment. The proprietor of the cafe accused the two young photographers of running a brothel. ‘I had to get out,’ Ford told an interviewer, ‘because he’d never heard of a woman photographer.’


Lyn and Carol
1961, printed 1988
gelatin silver photograph
34.1 x 34.2 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased 1988 (372.1988)
© Sue Ford Archive, Melbourne

Just a couple of years later she’d moved out of the city to Eltham. Now married to Gordon Ford, she’d taken his last name and by the late ’60s was mother of two. But Sue Ford didn’t slip into some sort of conventional wife and mother role. Photography, which had been an essential part of her identity since she was a girl, remained so. During this time she briefly operated a portrait business and continued to produce works ranging from self-portraits to series such as The Tide Recedes.

But Ford’s extraordinarily productive artistic career really began to take off during the early ’70s. It was an era when feminism’s ‘second wave’ was well on its way toward radically re-shaping cultural norms not only in Australia, but across much of the western world. And as an artist Ford was in the thick of that change.


Ross, 1964; Ross, 1974 (1964″“74)
printed 1974  from the Time series 1962″“74
gelatin silver photograph
(a-b) 11.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board and the KODAK (Australasia) PTY LTD Fund, 1974 (PH171.a-b-1974)
© Sue Ford Archive, Melbourne


Fabian, 1966; Fabian, 1974; Fabian, 1980 (1966″“80)
printed 1982  from the Time series II 1962″“82
gelatin silver photographs
(a) 11.0 x 7.6 cm, (b) 11.8 x 8.4 cm, (c) 11.3 x 8.2 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales Contempo Group 2013 (265.1996)
© Sue Ford Archive, Melbourne

See full story and additional mages in  Photo Review Mag app May 2014 issue  and Photo Review Jun-Aug print and PDF editions.

NGV Exhibition

Sue Ford
The Ian Potter Centre: National Gallery of Victoria
17 April to 24 August 2014
The accompanying 176-page hardback publication produced in conjunction with the Sue Ford Archive is available from the NGV shop for $39.95.